If you’re not seeing as many monarch butterflies in your garden as you used to, there’s a reason for that. In fact, it’s become a problem in North America that many are trying hard to mend, including a local youth group at Christ the King Lutheran Church in West Chester.
This past fall, teens and their parents planted seeds to cultivate an expansive monarch butterfly garden at the church, which has become a certified Monarch Waystation. A Monarch Waystation habitat is a place that provides resources necessary for monarchs to produce successive generations and sustain their migration.
According to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, the population of monarch butterflies has been steadily declining for the past two decades, primarily due to habitat loss, pesticides and rising temperatures. In fact, the western population faces extinction in the next 20 years.
So, when church member Donna Pellegrin and her daughter discovered 11 starving monarch caterpillars in their home garden, they knew they had to act fast.
Donna turned to Susan Fox, a retired landscape architect, avid gardener and leader of the Green Team (an eco-friendly group) at Christ the King.
“I knew Susan was a passionate gardener and might know sources of milkweed [which is what monarchs feed on],” Donna says. “I became educated all about monarchs and what they need. And I discovered that if I wanted these monarchs to survive, I needed to do a little more intervention because typically between only one and five percent survive out in nature.”
What started as an educational family project blossomed into something bigger.
Donna serves as the Youth Coordinator for Christ the King, and once her youth group heard what she and her daughter were doing, it soon became a team effort to help save local monarch butterflies.
“Susan and I looked at our church property and talked about how to make our church property qualify for a Monarch Waystation,” Donna explains. “We had many nectar plants already, so for us it was easy. We went well beyond the minimum requirements, but we looked up what we needed, what was missing, and it was milkweed. We needed two varieties to qualify.”
While there are many different types of the milkweed plant, the main types that will grow locally are common milkweed, swamp milkweed and butterfly milkweed.
“Milkweed used to be a common roadside weed but it’s disappearing,” Susan explains. “So, we try to encourage others to plant milkweed in their own gardens, at churches or at schools.
“But why do we care so much about one little insect? Because it’s…an indicator species. If monarchs are dying, then it’s a warning that there are lots of other things missing.” –Susan Fox
Monarch habitats not only support monarchs but many of our other important pollinators and wildlife as well.
“As Christians, we believe that everything is a part of God’s creation and God’s gift,” Susan says. “That butterfly is as beloved to God as we are so why we should we be complicit in this bug’s demise? If we’re a part of the reason it’s going away, then we should be a part of saving it.”
Christ the King’s youth group project was so successful that they decided to document their efforts and make it a pilot program for other youth groups. To learn more about how to start your own butterfly garden, become a Monarch Waystation and more, visit YouthForMonarchs.org.
Become a Monarch Certified Waystation
Turn your small home garden into a Monarch Waystation. Learn more at MonarchWatch.org.
- Plant one or more types of milkweed plants, and create a density of two to 10 plants per square yard to provide shelter for the monarchs.
- Plant one or more nectar plants that are annuals or biennials. Examples include blanket flower, French marigold and thistle. Plant one of more perennial nectar plant, like Black-eyed Susans, butterfly bushes, catnip or violets.
- Perform one or more of these sustainable management practices:
- Add other features (fruit feeders, bee nesting boxes, other host plants, etc.)
- Add nutrients to the soil before planting
- Eliminate the use of insecticides
- Minimize crowding of the plants
- Mulch around the base of plants to reduce the growth of weeds and retain water
- Remove dead stalks, etc. before the next growing season
- Remove invasive species from the site
- Use natural compost for fertilization